Moving into a new home for Christmas: “We’re still struggling financially, but we have loads of dreams”
Getting a foot on the property ladder wasn’t easy in 2018 but for some it worked out after years of planning and saving
Laurence Baker and Kristen Flanagan at their home in Roebuck Castle, Clonskeagh Dublin, with their dogs George and Stanley. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
A townhouse in Clonskeagh, Dublin, was the first house newlyweds Kristen Flanagan and Laurence Baker ever bid on and three weeks later the keys were theirs. “It all came together so fast, we were looking on Daft for a year but after doing the usual rounds with the banks were not getting anywhere fast. When we finally got mortgage approval in March, we put in a bid within days. We got caught in a petty bidding war of €500 here and there but eventually, we got it over the line,” says Flanagan.
The three-bed semi was not what the couple had entirely in mind – “We had made this wish list of everything we wanted and as we had been renting for so many years, we’d added a lot to that list. If we were to try and fulfil it, it was going to cost us a lot more so if we wanted to get on the property ladder, we had to get real. Location was key as we’d done the long commutes to work for too long, a big park or green for the dogs [George and Stanley] to run around was also paramount. Laurence was hell-bent on a south-facing garden and my main priority was simply having my own boy-free bathroom,” says Flanagan.
Roebuck Castle ticked most of the main boxes but the couple brought builders Oakstein Construction to see the house before they signed for it as they felt the internal layout was not conducive to their needs. “We wanted to reconfigure the layout of the downstairs floor plate as space was badly used and we decided to sacrifice the box room bedroom upstairs and earmarked it for an en-suite and extra wardrobe space,” says Flanagan.
Again, no time was wasted and the couple were given the keys on a Friday morning and by that Sunday night, there was not an internal wall left within the house. While the house was gutted, they took the opportunity to replumb, reinsulate and improve all systems. After six weeks, their restructured home was ready to move into.
“The building works added around 10 per cent to the cost of the house, but we worked it out with the bank so that it was covered in the mortgage sum. We also got 2 per cent back, which has pretty much covered all the basic furniture costs for now too. The entire process has been such a whirlwind we’ve hardly had time to process it all. But last weekend we were putting up the Christmas decorations, there were festive songs playing and the dogs were getting very excited and for the first time, it really felt like we were home,” says Flanagan.
It’s been an exciting 12 months for the Quinn-Stathams. This day last year, the Waterford couple married, and the pre-Christmas celebrations were followed a few months later by pre-Easter celebrations when they moved into a new home, along with five-year-old Michael junior and seven-year-old Bella.
“It’s been an eventful year alright,” Michael Quinn says, remembering the relief when he and his wife, Jessica Statham, finally found the place they are now happy to call home. “We’d been house-hunting for about two years. It was a bit of a journey. We’d looked at loads of places. We had a limited budget and we were looking for a fixer-upper. We were about to sign the contract on a rural cottage that needed lots of work when we discovered Japanese knotweed in the garden and dry rot inside. That was hugely disappointing. Then we got another call.”
“And that was it,” recalls Statham, who is a wedding celebrant, yoga teacher and social worker. “It was the estate agent. Within a couple of hours, we had viewed the house and made up our minds. Rather than facing into a project that would take up every second, we decided that life was for living.”
The house needed work, but not to the same degree as other properties they’d seen. Quinn reckoned he could tackle most of the donkey work. Statham was immediately inspired with ideas about changes they could make to the ’80s-style house, which is located in a suburban estate.
“It needed work, but the basics were right. There’s a south-facing garden with lovely trees. It’s close to town and the kids’ school, but also right beside the river. There are four bedrooms, but we use one for yoga.”
The renovations are ongoing, but Quinn and Statham are a good working team.
“Well, most of the time at least!” says Quinn. “I won’t say it’s all holding hands and agreeing on everything. Jessie is very determined. She has strong opinions.”
“I love those home improvement programmes and over the course of the renovations I got the nickname ‘Dermot’,” says Statham. “The house is relaxed and comfortable. Myself, Michael and the kids are totally in our element. It’s been a good year and there’s not much more to do. Though, of course, there’s always a need for more storage solutions!”
The first time 31-year-old Charelle Kinsella-Connolly saw the house that was to become her home earlier this year, she was so excited she couldn’t bring herself to look inside.
“My heart was pounding. We drove up and down past it, but we weren’t 100 per cent sure it was even the right house.”
That morning, after 13 years on the social housing list, Kinsella-Connolly had heard that at last she and her family were to be given a house. She had received the letter with the news on the anniversary of her 15-year-old sister Hannah’s death by suicide. She felt it was a sign. The letter said the house was beside Banna Strand in Co Kerry. Banna Strand was her late sister’s favourite place.
“I rang the housing officer and asked if this was it, the house with the big garden and a foundation I could build a shed on. She wasn’t allowed to tell me.”
The house needed work. Kinsella-Connolly wouldn’t be told for sure which house it was until it was ready to be occupied. She had a hunch.
“Me and Frank and the kids would keep driving up and down the road past it. I could picture a polytunnel in the garden. It was like seeing all my dreams before me.”
On June 30th, when Kinsella-Connolly was finally given the keys, she stepped inside the door and burst out crying.
I was homeless in Dublin for a few years. But I’d been given this break to make a life for my kids
“I couldn’t believe it. The thoughts of the quality of life for the kids. I’ve been through a lot in my life. I left home very young. I was homeless in Dublin for a few years. But I’d been given this break to make a life for my kids.
“The location is amazing. I can see the sand dunes from my bedroom window. I went for a walk on them after I moved in. To my left I could see the sea. To my right I could see my little house.”
Kinsella-Connolly, her children Aliyah (14), Courage (7) and Faith (5), along with her partner Frank O’Brien, are learning to sail in anticipation of a warm summer next year.
“We’re learning online. It’s like learning a new language. Frank bought this sailing boat on Done Deal and I named it Mellow Mellow. We’re still struggling financially, but we have loads of dreams and now we’re in a place where we can actually make them happen.”
Dubliner Ruth Medjber (32), a freelance photographer, moved into her one-bedroom apartment in north Dublin city over Halloween.
“I’m a freelance, self-employed photographer, and we’re not known to be minted: I’d say I earn the average wage. But because I’m single, 32, and female, a lot of mortgage lenders saw me as ‘high risk’ and I kept getting turned down for mortgages. One broker told me, ‘they deem you as high risk because some would assume you’ll be pregnant in five or six years’ time, which will take you out of employment’. I went in with all my forms, documents and tax certs, and one of [the lenders] laughed in my face and said, ‘you’re one of the tricky ones’. The system isn’t designed to help self-employed people out.
“Very simply, I didn’t want to turn 30 and be living with my parents. I moved out at 18, as I was fierce independent. Living with your parents, while I get on great with them, isn’t great for your confidence. Society shames you for being a certain age and living at home. But I wasn’t terrified about being booted out of a rental by a landlord, like most of my friends.
“I’d resigned myself to going back into the rental market – I had been living at home in Drumcondra and working seven days a week to save a deposit – and then I heard about Rebuilding Ireland loans [a Government-backed mortgage for first-time buyers]. In February, I was pretty much the first one through the door with my forms in hand. The loans are pretty much the same as with a bank, although they can lend you five times what you earn: it’s 2.25 per cent interest, fixed over 30 years, and you can apply to whatever council district you want to live in, with no limits. I got approved for Dublin City Council and Fingal Council.
“When it came to buying my apartment, I had it down like a military operation. Because I have a dog, I had very strict criteria on a limited budget: I needed my own front and back door, and a garden. My apartment is the ground floor of a duplex building, with all of that.
When you bid on one-bedroom apartments in Dublin 1, 2 and 8, you’re essentially bidding against investors
“When you bid on one-bedroom apartments in Dublin 1, 2 and 8, you’re essentially bidding against investors. On one property in town, there was a cash buyer who upped the price by €10,000 any time I moved. I kept seeing the same woman at viewings and she confided in me that she was representing a firm of Chinese businessmen. In the end, I went €10,000 over the asking price on my apartment in north Dublin. I hated the whole [conveyancing] process – I never believed I’d get there in the end. I felt it was so far-fetched for me to get property, it was like I was just playing along at times.
“It’ll take me a while to do the apartment up bit by bit. I’ve painted the walls and put in new floors, and I’m waiting for the couch to arrive. I never bothered putting a Christmas tree up in rentals before, but now I’m buying all sorts of mad decorations on Asos for this one.”
“I’d been living in Clancy Quay in an apartment complex, where my flatmate and I paid €2,000 a month rent. I was working in a digital media company a couple of years ago and my plan was to set up my own company. I wanted the security of having my own place, and I suppose I felt I was getting on a bit.
“I was saving €1,000 a month, and by October 2017, I’d saved €8,000. Every Sunday became my ‘Daft.ie’ night, where I would depress myself looking through listings as the prices climbed higher and higher.
“I’d done a life-coaching course, and during one session I put it out to the universe that I wanted to buy a house. A few days later, I was on my AIB banking app and a mortgage calculator feature came up. I realised if I had a €30,000 deposit, I’d qualify for a mortgage of a certain amount. A rep from the bank rang me a day later and told me about the Help to Buy Government scheme. I clicked on the site and they asked me to submit some forms, including a P21. Three minutes later, I was told I’d qualified for a grant of €9,500.
“A week after that, I’d seen that €4,500 was lodged into my account from Revenue – turns out I received tax back via the P21, as I’d been over-taxed the previous year. I went into work a few days later and they’d told me I’d hit my Q3 targets, so I got a bonus of €8,500. That took me to a deposit of €28,500.
“I got lucky in other ways too: when I Googled ‘new builds for €285,000’, an apartment five minutes from my mum’s house came up. It was the last unit in a six-apartment building. It had been the first to sell, but the buyer’s mortgage fell through and the builder, keen to move onto another project, just wanted rid of it.
“I viewed the apartment with my mum – it was so lovely and spacious [about 1,300sq ft] and we got back into the car and my mum was like, ‘I think you’ll need to call that lady [agent] right away’. It was the firsst and only property I viewed, and I put the booking deposit down that week. I feel a bit guilty sometimes when I hear about the nightmares that other first-time buyers encounter. The only stress I encountered was a week-long delay in getting the keys.
“The apartment was a shell, so I applied for a credit card with a €6,500 limit, and then got invited to a Harvey Norman 70 per cent discount sale. I managed to buy all my furniture for €5,500.
“The icing in the cake was realising that my mortgage was going to be €1,030 a month. I have a housemate who pays me €750 a month for one of the bedrooms. Paying so much less money has allowed me to quit my job and start my company and do what I want to do. I still have a sense of security knowing that if it comes to it, I could rent out the third bedroom and I’ll always cover my mortgage.
“I realised recently that I’d lived in 32 properties since I was a child, and have spent €180,000 on rent in my life. Knowing this place is my own, and knowing I won’t have to pack up and move out, is amazing. I even got someone to video me hammering a nail into a wall. I’ve also gotten a puppy, which I hadn’t been able to before.
“I’ll be hosting Christmas this year and my whole family will be coming for dinner, so I’ll be going all out on the decorations and tree. I just hope the puppy doesn’t tear it down!”